Keeping Marine Pests out of Fiordland

The newly established Fiordland Marine Pathways Management Plan Steering Group met for the first time on 9 April 2014. The Group has been asked to develop a plan whereby the risk of marine pests being transported into the Fiordland (Te Moana o Atawhenua) Marine Area on vessel hulls and gear is minimised or removed. This task would be difficult to achieve without the ideas and involvement of vessel owners and operators. Input from these sources is likely to result in solutions that are effective and practical as such we encourage this input.

During the Group’s meeting a report came in of a motor yacht heading to Fiordland with small patches of the Mediterranean fanworm Sabella spallanzanii (Sabella), attached to its hull. It was completely by chance that this harmful marine pest was discovered at all. And it was incredibly lucky that the diver who was checking the hull for fuel efficiency recognised it so that the invasive fanworm could be cleaned off. If the check had not been made Sabella might now be settling within Fiordland’s special sheltered inner fiords with potentially devastating impacts.

This vessel illustrates just how vulnerable the Fiordland Marine Area is to marine pests and how easily they can be transported via vessel hulls, niche areas or gear of vessels visiting or residing in Fiordland waters.

Vessels and their gear provide the major pathway for marine pests to reach the FMA- and all types of vessel can be involved. From large tourist vessels through to small trailor boats, the potential for bringing pests into Fiordland is very real.

But of course not all vessel operators knowingly transport these undesirables into a pristine environment such as Fiordland. Indeed experiencing Fiordland’s special qualities is regarded as a rare privilege by those able to venture there. And with a growing understanding of how vessel operators can reduce this risk and an awareness of how marine pests can devastate the natural environment has come the realisation of just how critical it is to keep them out.

At least Sabella was only a scare. Not so the Japanese kelp Undaria pinnatafida (Undaria), where a single mature specimen was found on a barge mooring line in remote Sunday Cove, Breaksea Sound in April 2010. Since then there has been a concentrated effort by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), Department of Conservation (DOC), Environment Southland (ES) and the Fiordland Marine Guardians (Guardians) to locally eliminate Undaria from the site. This has involved diving teams making trips every month and the removal of approximately 1900 plants. The Undaria response programme is scheduled to continue until July 2015 and is looking very promising. However, the Undaria response has shown just how resource intensive responding to a marine pest can be after it has arrived.

Keeping marine pests out of Fiordland waters in the first place is by far the most effective way of looking after one of our most celebrated marine icons.

In 2012 the Government implemented its marine biosecurity pathway policy by introducing Pathway Management Plans as an amendment to the Biosecurity Act 1993. Such plans are based on first identifying the pathways whereby pests are transported into an area. Then the task is to develop ways of ensuring that pests can no longer use those pathways.

A proposal to develop a Fiordland Marine Pathways Management Plan was approved by Environment Southland in March 2014. The plan is to be developed jointly by ES, MPI, DOC and the Fiordland Marine Guardians (Guardians). This community/ joint agency approach follows that which was so successful in creating the Fiordland (Te Moana o Atawhenua) Marine Management Act that was passed in 2005.

At the first Steering Group meeting the primary objective to stop the movement of marine pests into Fiordland was confirmed. Vessel hulls, niche areas and gear were also recognized as the primary means of transporting marine invaders into Fiordland and all vessel types are associated with some level of risk.

Accordingly the major focus of the plan will be:

How to ensure all vessels and gear entering or residing in Fiordland waters are clean”.

The Steering Group has its work cut out over the next 6 - 9 months developing the draft plan and would welcome the involvement of all those with an interest in keeping the Fiordland Marine Area pristine and pest free.

For those of you who are vessel owner/operators with experience of the Fiordland Marine Area we need your ideas and input to deliver the most effective workable solutions.

You may like to contact the Fiordland Marine Guardians (info@fmg.org.nz) who represent your interests or alternatively Derek Richards, the Environment Southland representative on the Steering Group.

Steering Group members include:

Derek Richards - ES  (derek.richards@es.govt.nz)

Jen Brunton - MPI 

Richard Kinsey - DOC 

Rebecca McLeod - Guardians

Stephen Logie - MPI

Note: Runanga representative to be decided

Laurel Teirney - Co-ordinator 

Note: The Steering Group will update activities and progress with the draft plan on a regular basis.